So we hear, just after Jesus’ baptism, he is driven by the Spirit into the desert where he’s alone and tempted. The image of desert recurs repeatedly in the Scriptures, and I would say the desert experience recurs repeatedly in our own lives. We know the desert of barren senselessness when we have trouble seeing our way through the chaos and confusion which surrounds us… when we have a sense of being lost or abandoned or desiccated, feeling like we’re trudging on the surface of sinking sand, unable to find our own way out. In those desert times of our lives, life may seem like a vicious circle, as senseless as a dog chasing its tail. That is a sense of the desert, even if you happen to be living in or visiting New England.
In the Gospel record, we read of three presentations of Jesus at the Temple. Today, the first of the presentations, marks forty days following Jesus’ birth. Two things were required of Mary and Joseph according to the Law of Moses: Jesus’ parents were required to present Jesus in the temple, dedicating him to God as their firstborn son.[i] Also, there was Mary’s need for “purification.” We read in the Book of Leviticus that a new mother was to be ceremonially purified by a priest forty days after childbirth.[ii] A second presentation was when Jesus was age 12, when he greatly impressed the temple authorities with his precocious knowledge.[iii] And a third, when, as an adult, he was presented with the goings on of Temple – what was going on, outside and inside the temple.
Not long ago I shared with a Brother about a difficult experience and my emotions around it. This was something I had never told anyone before. Part of his empathic response was, “Luke, you’re human.” In the moment, I thought he meant the content of what I shared. But looking back, I see that it was in being vulnerable—risking to speak and be exposed—that I was most human.
“Their sound has gone out into all lands…” So goes a bit of Psalm 19. Our sermons now go out into all lands on the Internet. So I hesitate to admit what I’m about to, lest I expose myself to international ridicule and opprobrium. Others will have to decide whether to suppress this confession in the electronic media: some days, when I feel like I could use a little self-indulgence, I make my way over to Burdick’s Chocolate Shop. Then I order a pot of tea and “a little somethin’”. The “little somethin’” is usually a slice of their chocolate mousse cake: a thin but intense layer of chocolate ganache on top, then a thick, creamy layer of chocolate mousse, and at the bottom, a layer of chocolate sponge cake—soaked in Poire William, (that’s the liqueur that comes with a whole pear inside the bottle). Three clearly differentiated layers unified in a common theme: chocolate! Three manifestations of chocolate in one glorious epiphany. Hallelujah for chocolate! It makes me happy to know that something in this world can be so delicious.
Earlier this year Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her diamond jubilee. I remember seeing her on the television, her tiny figure standing at the front of a boat as it made its way down the Thames, with thousands of people waving and cheering. I lived in England for the first 44 years of my life, and every day of my life I must have seen her face, on the coins, the bills, the stamps. Her presence was everywhere. It was ‘her majesty’s government’,’ her majesty’s prisons’, her majesty’s army, navy, air force ‘and even, every April, the dreaded envelope would land on the mat, bearing the words, ‘from her majesty’s inspector of taxes’!
But Jesus is not just concerned with how these attitudes affect other people; Jesus is concerned with how these attitudes affect us. When we are judgmental, turn our backs on someone, or refuse to forgive, it is not the person toward whom we feel these things that suffers; but we suffer, because we must live with these negative emotions day-by-day. Similarly, when we forgive and are giving, we’ve no doubt all experienced the joy and freedom it brings. In either case, the measure we give is the measure we get back.
The New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini had an article over the weekend about his encounter as a twelve year old with the Ballades of Chopin—actually, the first one in G Minor, and, especially, a certain three-note turn of phrase toward the beginning. He goes on to write about those musical moments that are so powerful that, in an instant, indelible impressions are made and lives are changed. Even children are susceptible to these occasions of transcendent beauty. Perhaps especially children.
In our first reading we find these words, “Rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of … hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:4-7)
Today we commemorate Leo, one of the great Bishops of Rome in the middle of the 5th Century, an important period for the Church.
Today’s gospel lesson is a rather odd parable that Jesus tells his disciples. For the most part the manager in this story is embezzling his boss’s money and he gets found out. And so his employer fires him and the man then worries about what people will think of him and where he will find a job in the future with this on his record. So far the actions of the employer and the subsequent anxiety of the former manager are no surprise to us. What happens next is probably even LESS surprising: the man, before the news of his unemployment is made known attempts a manipulative cover-up which, if all goes according to his plan, will cast him in a favorable light to those who owe his former employer money, and perhaps secure him a new job. Again….no surprise, it’s as if we could see this story on the front page of the Boston Globe.
You might wonder how, without exploiting his divinity, Jesus was able to be so forthright with such a group of lawyers and Pharisees.